The burden of Northern history

There has been a spate of books on America’s presumed decline in recent days. Most now and ever before compare with the rise and fall of Rome. I’ve always thought we should be compared with two empires, Rome and Athens. Or better yet, Rome and Constantinople, equal and opposite cultural counter-forces for at least 1,000 years. But ours are red and blue and their capitals are New York City and Dallas.

This division was identified by Henry James in the late 1800s. “The Bostonians,” which might be seen as visionary today, contrasted the radical feminist and reformer, Olive, with the Southern cousin Basil, who dines with “a six-shooter and a bowie knife.” When asked, “Don’t you care for human progress?” he answers, “I don’t know — I never saw any.”

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